Marketing director of cleaning service Helpstar.ru Ivan Karpeev talks about competition in the market, the culture of tipping, Moscow fashion for Filipino cleaning workers and stereotypes of Russian housewives, in an exclusive interview for Moskvaer.
MOSKVAER: Ivan, cleaning service as a business has become extremely popular in the last few years, some different applications and mobile sites popped up in Moscow, offering appropriate services. Tell us a bit about your strategy of detuning from competitors.
IVAN: Helpstar’s main distinctions from other online cleaning services is the fact that Helpstar is not just a cleaning company. We are an on-demand home services platform that is focused on making day-to-day home life easier. In July we will be adding dry cleaning pick up and delivery service and will subsequently be expanding into a broader variety of home service niches. The opportunities for adding such additional services are almost endless, all you have to do is look around you.
Via our home cleaning service, we are simply showcasing our standardized quality approach to customers. Every single cleaning professional working with Helpstar undergoes meticulous training in accordance with the brand’s standardized cleaning methodology, developed in California. We do not simply hand out Helpstar’s uniform to anybody and when you order cleaning services from Helpstar you can rest assured that every single cleaner that works in your home will be as good as the next.
About clients and national features
It is known that Filipino maids had once been popular in Moscow. How would you assess their competitiveness in the market today?
IVAN: Similarly to many other countries, Russian cleaning companies using Filipino maids have traditionally held a price-advantage over companies employing a local workforce. Similarly to guest workers from post-soviet Central Asian republics, working in Russia, Filipino workers came to Russia to earn money to remit back to their families at home. The drastic change in the value of the Russian Ruble has made Russia significantly less attractive to many such guest workers and many companies employing Filipino workers had to raise their prices. This gave an incentive to customers to consider other companies that employ local cleaners and offer higher quality services at comparable prices.
I have a feeling that now the majority of Muscovites are still not quite ready to completely delegate house cleaning to professionals. For many people, even among the advanced youth, cleaning services are a whim and \ or something bourgeois. Based on this, how would you describe your audience? A portrait of an average customer of your services.
IVAN: Consumer attitude towards using external assistance for their household chores is a personal and subjective matter. However it can be safely said that our services are on the wish-list of many modern Muscovites. The majority of our customers are 25-45 years old busy individuals with medium and above medium income. They range from single professionals to families with children, all attracted by the opportunity to spend their time on the things they want to do, their families, exploring new things, pretty much anything other than the boring old home chores. With an increase in income levels, we are hoping to see an increase in the demand for the expanded range of services offered by Helpstar. Our customers tend to look at the price for our services and say to themselves “Wow, this is actually a great deal for freeing up an entire day!”
It seems that for many Russian women cleaning is a kind of sacred duty, many women believe that no one can tidy up the house better than themselves. This is quite a serious barrier to the cleaning business, isn’t it? A stereotype attached by generations. What tools, message or marketing tricks do you use to break it?
IVAN: In fact about three quarters of our bookings are actually made by women, which completely demolishes the stereotype that you are referring to. Irrespective of whether they are male or female, all our customers chose to entrust the cleaning of their apartment or house to our cleaners, just so that could free up that extra little time for themselves. In many families with children, mothers are often fully occupied with the wellbeing of their kids and often lack the time to also look after their home.
The fact that over half of our customers use our service repeatedly, often booking bi-weekly or monthly cleaning, speaks volumes to the quality and convenience of our service, and the trust that they have in Helpstar. We also often run various promotions, for example right now we are offering to clean all windows in an apartment for only 990 RUB. Such great specials help us to bring those potential customers on board, who previously thought that professional cleaning services were prohibitively expensive. Once they give our service a try they come back to the Helpstar.ru website to book over and over again.
On the human factor and the staff
You offer bilingual cleaning service. Does this mean that all of your cleaners speak English? If so, tell us about the process and the principles of recruitment. Who are your cleaners? What are the requirements for them?
IVAN: No, not all of our cleaners speak English, but those who do are definitely the first to be assigned to our foreign customers. It’s not really an issue even for our non-English-speaking professionals to service such bookings, since our English-speaking call-center operators are on stand-by from 7AM until midnight to fill in any language barrier voids and make sure that our international customers receive a superior service.
We have cleaners from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, mainly aged between 30 and 45 years old. Each cleaner undergoes thorough background tests, standardized training and testing, so that we are confident in the quality of cleaners that service our clients’ homes. We work hard in selecting those cleaners that share our corporate values, take responsibility for the results of their work and respect our customers and their time.
How is the cleaner’s salary calculated?
IVAN: Payments received by our cleaning professionals are determined by the workload that each individual takes on. The payment structure also takes into account how satisfied our customers are with the quality of service provided by a particular cleaner, with the best cleaners earning more than others. Customers are able to select a particular cleaner for their repeat bookings, and we do not only pay cleaners bonuses for such loyalty of our customers, but it also helps the cleaners to plan their future workload and earnings, way ahead of time.
Is there a practice \ tradition of tipping in the cleaning sector? How is it in Russia? What is the average tip for a cleaner?
IVAN: I think it may be a little premature to talk about tipping being customary, but tipping in this business does exist. Customers often do leave tips to their cleaners, and in my opinion, it’s not the same thing as a tip to a waiter. Customers can clearly see the result of the work that was done and if they choose to tip, that means that they are very happy with the result. We see this more as a display of gratuity by individual customers, rather than a compulsory bill line item. Of course, we are happy to see customers leave tips to the cleaners, and for the convenience of those customers who pay with a bank card, we have added a feature to the platform that allows them to leave a tip directly via their online Helpstar account, immediately after they rate their recent cleaning. At the end of the day, all tips are left to the discretion of each individual customer – there is no set tip amount or percentage.
About the prices and safety
How much does a complete cleaning of a studio apartment cost if ordering through your website?
IVAN: You can book your first one-time cleaning of a studio apartment for only 1550RUB and regularly scheduled cleanings are up to 20% cheaper. We also encourage our customers to invite their friends to try our service and credit their account 500RUB for each referral, which is the same as the discount received by each of their friends off their first booking. Invite a few friends and you can get your cleanings done absolutely free.
Do I need to be at home while your employee is doing the cleaning? If not, how is the issue of trust solved?
IVAN: We have full confidence in all of our specialists, their honesty and trustworthiness. All cleaners undergo background checks and are tested on their knowledge of the standardized cleaning procedures and customer service skills. At the same time we also have a 10 million ruble insurance policy with AIG, which gives additional assurance to our customers in the safety of their homes. We do often find that those customers that have not used cleaning services in the past, are initially very cautious of letting an unknown person into their apartment, but over time we find that our customers begin to feel confident enough to leave their apartment keys with their neighbors, concierge or even their mailbox. We try to be very flexible in this respect.
About what to do if something goes wrong
What if a customer is dissatisfied with the quality of cleaning?
IVAN: In an unlikely event that we do come across a dissatisfied customer, we offer a free cleaning to fix it or offer a refund. But first and foremost we try to figure out what may have gone wrong and take immediate actions to ensure that such error does not repeat in the future. We very rarely come across customers who give our cleaners bad ratings without a cause. But in any case, we always correct mistakes and make sure that we take care of our customer in a way that will ensure their repeat business.
Tell us about any interesting insights such as professional jokes or funny incidents.
IVAN: Not so long ago we introduced a toilet paper folding practice, similar to those found at hotels, where the cleaner fixes the folded paper on the roll with a branded round sticker. Shortly after, we were surprised to receive a call from a customer who thanked us for the cleaning in general, but asked us not to stick Helpstar branded stickers all over his bathroom ceramics. When we questioned the cleaner, it turned out that she did not understand as to why she needs to put a sticker on the paper, which the customer would be sure to throw out. Instead she decided to place stickers on the sink and top of the toilet bowl, to remind the customer of Helpstar. We made everything up to the customer, and also promised the cleaner to think of other materials that we could use to remind customers about us in the future. Secretly, it was very warming to see that Helpstar cleaners are just as passionate about the business as the management team.